A long boat ride worth itBy JAY MASTRY
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2002
Once the wind slows, grouper, snapper and amberjack are likely to make it worth your while if you don't mind a bit of a boat ride.
Wrecks, reefs and springs in triple-digit depths have been most productive, especially in the south county. Jiggling gold hook rigs in 40 feet provided live bait. Thinly sliced frozen sardines and shad are appetizers. Whole ones round out the menu.
Working a spring in 107 feet has produced four-on-at-a-time amberjack. Lightening up on tackle is an option. Without fear of getting cut off on structure, drags may be loosened and lighter line used. When AJs are stacked up they'll chew most live baits. Cigar minnows, greenbacks, pinfish, grunts, sardines and whitebait work well on lesser amberjack and banded rudder fish. If you're scared of getting hurt don't put down that 2-pound blue runner, or that 11/2-pound angelfish or sand perch. The biggest, baddest, burliest one in the group usually waits for the biggest bait in the well and won't be shy. Grouper and snapper have cooperated in the same depth over structure. We've managed a few each trip but had to share some with Goliath grouper that have helped themselves to a couple that we've wrestled halfway to the surface. When unable to get offshore, the edges of the ships channel in Tampa Bay have been a good bet. Though keeper grouper were few, a trip this week during the last two hours of the outgoing tide netted 25 mangrove snapper and 25 sheepshead. Twenty-pound test, a No. 1 hook, shrimp and a 2-ounce weight worked best.
A sheepshead mass exodus from the bay to the gulf has begun. Look for them around passes to the gulf.
They'll be fattening up around accumulation of structure.
Years ago Pinellas County Department of solid waste operations designed and constructed over a dozen such reefs in 12 to 16 feet along Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores. Each was 120 feet by 150 feet and rise off the bottom 4-5 feet. The department added others strung up to Sand Key. Though not marked by buoys, they are published and this time of year are home to many species, including "sheepies."
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